Writer’s Desk: How About Oranges?

In 1965, New Yorker writer John McPhee met with the magazine’s famously hard-to-please editor William Shawn to discuss his next story idea. According to Wyatt Williams’ Oxford American essay:

The writer would suggest subject after subject only to be told that the idea had already been reserved for another writer or that Shawn wasn’t interested in it. This is the moment, as the story goes, when John McPhee finally just said, “Oranges.”

That was it. That’s all it took:

According to the version he told in an interview with the Paris Review decades later, “That’s all I said—oranges. I didn’t mention juice, I didn’t mention trees, I didn’t mention the tropics. Just—oranges. Oh yes! Oh yes! [Shawn] says. That’s very good. The next thing I knew I was in Florida talking to orange growers.”

McPhee came back with 40,000 words on oranges for the magazine. He later turned it into a book. Title? Oranges.

All from a one-word pitch.

Screening Room: ‘Elian’

In 1999, a five-year-old Cuban boy was plucked from the waters off Florida. The story that followed was part international incident, part domestic political soap opera, and all spectacle.

CNN’s ‘Elian’ documentary is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International:

[The 1990s] saw the 24/7 news cycle roar to life in spectacularly messy fashion through round-the-clock coverage of everything from the O.J. Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey cases to the siege in Waco, Texas. Like those other media tsunami, the Elián Gonzalez case stormed in from nowhere, tore everything to pieces, and was gone before anybody knew what had happened. It started with a five-year-old boy found clinging to an innertube off the coast of Florida and ended with federal agents storming into a Little Havana house, assault rifles at the ready. Tim Golden and Ross McDonnell’s Elián tells the stranger-than-fiction story of what happened not just in between but afterward…

Here’s the trailer:

Department of Weekend Reading: January 23, 2015


Department of Weekend Reading: November 7, 2014